Here’s how the NHL’s 24-team playoff format will work

Tomas Nosek, Vegas Golden Knights. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
Tomas Nosek, Vegas Golden Knights. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images) /

The NHL will return with a 24-team playoff format later this year, but how will it work?

With the NHL having approved the 24-team playoff format for the league’s return to play, fans reacted with both encouragement and also confusion. As it stands now, the proposed 24-team seeding leaves a bit to be desired and calls into question the “fairness” of reseeding both playoff eligible and non-eligible teams.

Gripes aside, in a recent article, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman laid out how this format will look and the results are… pretty intriguing.

The NHL’s 24-team playoff will favor the top-seeded teams.

The top four teams of each conference would be given “bye” weeks and would play the winners of the wild card matchups from lower seeded teams. In the Eastern Conference, Boston (1), Tampa Bay (2), Washington (3) and Philadelphia (4) would stand pat.

In the meantime, we’d see matchups of:

  • Pittsburgh (5) vs Montreal (12) (winner faces Philadelphia)
  • Carolina (6) vs Rangers (11) (winner faces Tampa)
  • Islanders (7) vs Florida (10) (winner faces Washington)
  • Toronto (8) vs Columbus (9)  (winner faces Boston)

In the Western Conference, St. Louis (1), Colorado (2), Vegas (3) and Dallas (4) would receive byes while the lower seed matchups would result in:

  • Edmonton (5) vs Chicago (12) (winner faces four St. Louis)
  • Nashville (6) vs  Arizona (11) (winner faces Colorado)
  • Vancouver (7) vs Minnesota (10) (winner faces Vegas)
  • Calgary (8) vs Winnipeg (9) (winner faces Dallas)

The seeding is more complicated than it needs to be, but once it’s written out it’s no more ridiculous than the league’s current format.

However, it’s a tad bizarre to see the league decide that in lieu of playing out some of the regular season or just basing the standings off of points percentage, they’d turn to a method that allows teams like the Canadiens and Blackhawks — who are a whopping 10 and six points out of the playoff picture — a chance to contend.

Friedman’s colleague at Sportsnet, Chris Johnston, added another tidbit of info to the proposal as well. According to Johnston, the league is toying with the idea of allowing the top four seeds of each conference to play a few games against each other as to allow for some “jockeying” in the bracket.

It makes sense for the league to have teams play a few warm up games before just jumping straight into the playoffs. On the other hand, the same could be done by just playing a few more regular season games instead. Why should a team like the Bruins, who have been far-and-away the best team in the league this year, have to play more games to decide whether or not they truly are the top seed?

The format isn’t perfect and this is of course a fluid situation, but the approval of the league’s 24-team return signifies that the league is more than hopeful about returning to play. All things considered, this is a  step closer to normalcy.

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